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tl;dr version: If a username is considered acceptable on one site, is it necessarily acceptable everywhere else on the network or are there site-specific standards in username acceptability/offensiveness?

In a comment to the question Why did Stack Exchange change my nickname suddenly? , Scortchi - Reinstate Monica observes (emphasis mine),

[name], while unlikely to shock, isn't the kind of word you'd use in church; including it in your pseudonym gives the impression that you're very much at your ease in a place where, I presume, the expectation is of a little more decorum. It was perhaps injudicious of the site moderators to apply the change network-wide, as mores do vary between sites.

The question itself (a support request asking why a user's name was changed) ended up being closed by a Meta Stack Exchange moderator as specific to one site, lending credence to the idea that username policy is a site-specific matter, even if some site moderators choose to propagate forced name changes across the network (as appears to have been done in the OP's case).

On the other hand, a moderator on the site where the change propagated from posted an answer admitting that (emphasis mine),

I changed the username. It is vulgar in Portuguese.... Since this is a network-wide principle, I changed it network-wide.

One moderator appears to claim that username offensiveness is so site-specific that discussion of individual cases don't even belong on Meta Stack Exchange, and another seems to claim that username standards are network-wide. This is a bit confusing.

Is username policy, and more specifically the rules on what constitutes an offensive username, specific to each individual site on the network or is there a single network-wide standard? For example, is it possible for someone to come up with a Name X that is offensive and flaggable on Stack Overflow and Medical Sciences but is within the bounds of acceptability on Seasoned Advice and Server Fault (and attempts by users there to flag the user for "offensive username" will just get declined)?

Hypothetically speaking, I could imagine that the username "JESUS SAVES INRI" would probably be acceptable most places on the network, but could be seen as provocative on Mi Yodeya. Would that be something that Mi Yodeya mods would jump in and handle with a forced username change or would it be one of those minor interpersonal issues that the users would be expected to solve on their own or with gentle guidance from moderators?

Another way of asking the same question is whether, upon joining a new community, a user needs to re-check their existing username against the standards of the site they are joining, or whether the fact that there has never before been a problem with their username indicates that it's going to be fine on the new site too.

Notes:

To be clear, I do recognize that the majority (or even the vast majority) of usernames that actually get used on a day-to-day basis are either clearly acceptable (e.g. "Ann445" or "CProgrammer1970") or clearly unacceptable (e.g. "I will [expletive] your [relative]" or "[SE employee] can [intimate act] my [body part] - Hail Hitler"). My question is more theoretical - whether the concept of a locally-unacceptable name even exists or whether (for example) moderators are taught a single, universal standard for username acceptability that does not take into account local factors (e.g. the subject matter of the site, specific cultural beliefs shared by many of the site's participants but not the broader network, etc.), even though some moderators might not be able to fully enforce it due to lack of knowledge of certain languages, etc.

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    Another related question: are questions of network-wide username changes on-topic for Meta.SE? I think they are, since the username change was applied network-wide, and there is no way for a user (who isn't merely active on just one site) to know which site the name change was applied on if there wasn't a mod message sent (which is what happened in this case) and so they don't know which meta to post on. Aug 22, 2020 at 18:53
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    Also, a quick note for others: the author of this question shows up as one of the closers, but they had actually voted for the duplicate reason, not the off-topic reason, but as the mod closed as site-specific, that reason overrode the duplicate reason and so they show up as an off-topic voter when that's not the case. (A duplicate closure doesn't imply that the question isn't in scope for the site, merely that it has been covered before, and this has meaning in the system too.) Aug 22, 2020 at 18:55
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    That question was just reopened, FYI. Aug 23, 2020 at 10:44
  • Swearing is clearly language specific... examples the IBM product Cognos Analytics does not translate well into Spanish nor does the word "cojones" which has been adopted into English. In the UK we have a car called the "Vauxhall Nova" which some say does not sell well in Spanish speaking countries. Context is needed just to determine if someone is actually swearing.
    – MT1
    Aug 26, 2020 at 15:36

3 Answers 3

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It is done on a case by case basis. Our policy on language is not site specific, nor is it language specific. We simply happened to have a mod who spoke the language in question.

If a user has a username with intent or possibility of offending, we might choose to reset network wide. I suspect if it's a narrow case there might be some discussion

When I do a reset, I tend to mod message so the user is aware and there's a opportunity to discuss the reasoning but I have never been taken up on that offer.

Hypothetically speaking, I could imagine that the username "JESUS SAVES INRI" would probably be acceptable most places on the network, but could be seen as provocative on Mi Yodeya.

Or elsewhere. Doesn't the Bible have a rule against using the Lord's name in vain? 😁

We would certainly need to make a determination of the user's intent in situations like this.

You often would find there are internal conversations before actions like that and we never take these lightly

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To start of with the question raised by Sonic in the comments:

are questions of network-wide username changes on-topic for Meta.SE?

Which they answered themselves with a reason I couldn't add anything to, so I'll copy that as well:

I think they are, since the username change was applied network-wide, and there is no way for a user (who isn't merely active on just one site) to know which site the name change was applied on if there wasn't a mod message sent (which is what happened in this case) and so they don't know which meta to post on.

In this case I too think that the user chose the right site to post their question, as they had no way of knowing which site would be the site whose moderators removed their name.


Are offensive usernames offensive on all network sites?

Well that strongly depends. In your question you gave a perfect example of a username that could be considered offensive on a certain network site, but would be considered normal on others. Of course there are commonalities in names we wouldn't want to see on any network site. Terms referencing sexual activities, or any diseases for example.

In this specific example case, where the name was in an language other then English most people won't take offence because the name might appear to be just random letters or to be a persons first and last name. (the latter was my guess when I saw the username in question.) But that doesn't change the fact that for the people speaking that certain language the username is offensive. Hence it should be removed network wide.

When a username is considered sensitive within a certain community I think mods are overstepping when they remove the name network wide as opposed to within that community.

As to your example on the Jesus name, I find that a tough one to call, as there are many different views within Christianity as how to use His name. Personally I wouldn't take offence by such a username, but I wouldn't doubt there are those who do. But I guess that is to be seen when there is a user with such a name, and someone raises a flag about it.

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My thinking was that the kind of jocular, fairly mild, non-derogatory, vulgarity at issue in this case would be considered inappropriate (in a user-name or in a post) on sites aiming at a style approaching the formality of professional or academic writing, but would raise no eyebrows on those where the vibe's more cazh. There's no explicit network-wide policy on the matter; so extensive coördination between moderators of the ca 170 S.E. sites would be required to avoid their drawing the lines (O.K., not O.K. on this site, not O.K. on any site) in somewhat different places, whereas any coördination that does take place is limited & ad hoc. (And, in my view, that doesn't constitute a problem, & certainly not one worth anyone's time to try & solve—what could do with being sorted out is the lack of any automatic notification to users when their user-name's re-set.)

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